Last month, our friends at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) released a groundbreaking new briefing on a largely unexamined issue – microplastics in pesticides. PAN regularly highlights the dangers of pesticides and the threats they pose to the health of our communities and ecosystems because of their active ingredients. But sometimes inert ingredients can be just as, or even more, dangerous.
CIEL’s report, “Sowing a Plastic Planet,” reveals that chemical formulations include the deliberate addition of microplastics to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used in industrial agriculture.
You’ve heard of microplastics…
Plastic production exploded in the 1950s, introducing a new major pollutant into the environment. In recent years, plastic pollution has grown exponentially, and microplastics – tiny particles of plastic that are either deliberately manufactured or are a result of consumer products breaking down — are a main contributor. Microplastics accumulate in our air, water, soil, plants, animals, and bodies. Humans are ingesting and breathing microplastics and the toxins they contain through continued environmental exposure.
This pollution is compounded by the fact that microplastics are added to agrochemicals, products that are applied directly to soils, crops, and seeds, and are pervasive in our industrial food and farming system. Synthetic pesticides are already some of the most toxic substances in use today, and the practice of encapsulating them in microplastic only compounds the risks.
CIEL’s briefing aims to bring public awareness to this largely unstudied problem, exposing the agrochemical industry’s promotion of this practice and its threats to human health and the environment:
“The growing presence of microplastics in the environment, particularly in agricultural soils, means there is an increased potential for these tiny plastic particles to end up in our food and, ultimately, our bodies . . . Yet the intentional use of microplastics in other products, including agrochemicals, remains largely out of the public eye.”
The group also calls on governments to urgently act to close gaps in regulation and comprehensively ban the intentional use of microplastics in agriculture. We couldn’t agree more. Here are some key findings from the report:
- Despite receiving little public attention to date, the agricultural sector is one of the most significant users of intentionally added microplastics.
- The deliberate dispersion of microplastics in the environment through the application of plastic-coated fertilizers and pesticides is one of the most direct and preventable sources of growing microplastic pollution in agricultural soils.
- The use of plastic-coated synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is rising, with producers marketing their “controlled-release” function as a key to sustainable, climate-friendly agriculture.
- Encapsulating agrochemicals in plastic and spreading them across soils and crops only compounds the significant health and environmental risks posed by agrochemicals and may exacerbate their harmful impacts.
You can find CIEL’s full report here: Sowing a Plastic Planet: How Microplastics in Agrochemicals Are Affecting Our Soils, Our Food, and Our Future